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A battle in the Legislature… Local officials react to Jackson's challenge

By Staff
JACKSON'S PROPOSAL n Jackson officials hope a former dump on the Pearl River, photographed Wednesday, will be considered by the Department of Agriculture's arts center committee as the prime candidate for a proposed Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Center, instead of Meridian. Although the committee has chosen a site at Bonita Lakes, Jackson officials say they plan to fight the selection. AP photo
By Ben Alexander/The Meridian Star
Jan. 4, 2001
The tug-of-war over which city Meridian or Jackson will be the site chosen for the Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Center has taken another turn.
The issue seemed resolved in late December as Commissioner of Agriculture Lester Spell and Paul Ott, chairman of a selection committee, announced that Meridian's 175-acre Bonita Lakes site had been chosen.
Initial reaction from Jackson officials indicated they would not fight the choice, but now at least one councilman says he'll "be glad to put on armor and swing swords."
Meridian officials say they are prepared to meet any challenges.
Jackson Mayor Harvey Johnson Jr. said officials from his city will continue lobbying efforts, offering a site near the Pearl River. This comment comes a week after he said Jackson wouldn't resort to "that kind of fight" over the center's location and even offered Meridian officials good luck in developing the pristine Bonita Lakes site.
The proposed art center would house a hall of fame, theater, outdoor amphitheater, artists' apartments, conference center and restaurants.
Meridian was invited to submit a site proposal in October 1999.
Jackson leaders are apparently considering a serious push to persuade legislators to choose the capital city, despite the selection committee's recommendation.
The remark did not appear to amuse Ward 5 Councilman Bobby Smith of Meridian, who said city officials will not back down from a fight in the Legislature.
Mayor Smith said the city will make its case to the Legislature if need be, but said he was assured by Ott on Tuesday that the selection committee will back Meridian if a fight with Jackson develops over the center.
Smith said he is confident that Meridian will prevail.
Ben Alexander is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. E-mail him at